Suns Throwback: Danny Manning
by Matt Petersen

With the present Suns’ players enjoying their offseason, decided the summer time is a great chance to catch up with former players and staff for a weekly #SunsThrowback edition of Phoenix basketball history. How does it work? Basically we get their memories going just enough to do what they do best: tell us their most memorable stories from their playing days.

This week's guest is former Suns forward and Sixth Man of the Year Award winner Danny Manning, who reflected on being drafted No. 1 overall, his time with the Suns in the 1990s and how his career has helped him empathize with college athletes as the head coach of Wake Forest men's basketball.

On his new job as head coach of Wake Forest men's basketball...

It’s been a lot of fun. It’s very enjoyable for me just in the sense of being very fortunate to be here where I grew up. It’s a great school at Wake Forest in the ACC. It’s a wonderful opportunity that I’m very fortunate and blessed to have. 

On the similarities between college hoops now and then...

I get a chance to be around college students on a regular basis. In the recruiting world, your experiences in the past kind of help you out. I don’t reflect back on anything in the sense of what type of player I was or anything like that. I just look back on it as a wonderful time. I learned a lot and I really enjoyed it.

I think social media has really changed a lot. There’s just so much stuff going on that changes the dynamics of athletics in general…of the world in general, but especially in athletics. We’ve got the Twitter accounts. You’ve got Instagram. You’ve got Facebook.  There are so many different things that are out there now that weren’t when I was growing up or in college. That’s probably one of the biggest deals you’ve got to navigate and be aware of.

On being drafted No. 1 overall in 1988...

Danny Manning -- 1988 No. 1 Overall Pick

It was one of those deals where you really can’t worry about what you can’t control. Everyone is hoping that a certain team picks them for whatever reason that they have. At the end of the day you’ve just got to sit back and hope that it’s a great situation for you. That was kind of the mind-set that I had. Be happy. Be thankful. Enjoy the moment. Whoever drafts you, you’ve got to go in there and earn your way.

I thought the Clippers might draft me, but you never know until you know. My father played professional basketball[1] and I had a little bit of experience from other friends getting drafted a year or two ahead of me. I was hoping to get picked at a high level by a team that needs you. For me, the Clippers drafted me and I embarked on my professional career.

On his early years with the Clippers...

For me, any time you get drafted, your mindset is “I want to show that I belong.” That’s the mentality. I want to show that I belong. In the course of that, obviously you want to help your team become as successful as possible.

We got drafted by the Clippers, and I say “we” because there was a bunch of us that came in as young kids[2]. First-year players, we had a bunch of second-year players…we were a young team. We had some talent but it takes time in the NBA to figure it all out and get everything hitting the right switches at the right time. We certainly went through our growing pains, but I thought we got to a point where we were a very competitive team, especially when coach [Larry] Brown got there. 

On being traded for Dominique Wilkins...

I knew I was getting traded for Dominique Wilkins and I knew ‘Nique was a very special player to the people of the Georgia/Atlanta area. I quickly found out how much they loved and cared for him once I got there. [Laughs] It was my first game.

On why he chose to come to Phoenix in 1994...

For me, it was the first chance I had to pick the destination as a free agent. I wanted to go to a place where 1) we would have a chance to be successful. I wanted to go to a place where I believed and trusted in the leadership. I wanted to go to a place where I thought my family would enjoy it. For me, Phoenix ended up being all those and more.

I played for a great owner, one of the legendary owners in Jerry Colangelo. We had a very talented team led by Charles [Barkley] and KJ (Kevin Johnson). You throw in Dan [Majerle and A.C. [Green], [Danny] Ainge…we had a team that was going to be competitive. The area, the community, the support from the Suns faithful, the quality of life…for me, it was an easy decision.

On why playing in a crowded frontcourt[3] in Phoenix wasn't a deterrent...

When I came to the team, I thought we had a chance to be competitive and compete at the highest level. An NBA season is long and an NBA game is long. I felt comfortable enough in my abilities that I was going to be able to go out and earn some minute and be able to make a contribution in some way, shape or form.

You go back to those Suns teams, we had a lot of balance. You’re talking about Wayman Tisdale, Steve Nash, myself, Dan Majerle at times, we were sixth men or seventh men together depending on who else was out there. It was a lot of fun to go out there in practice and compete day in and day out.

On playing with Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash...

I go back to Steve’s first time here with the Suns. Steve backed up KJ and Jason. I’m playing with him every day on the second team and I’m saying to myself, “This young kid’s going to be good.” I knew he was going to be really good. I played with him every day.

Steve at that time was more of a set-them-up point guard but equally capable of scoring. Jason was someone who was dynamic and made his teammates better. KJ was a talented scoring point guard that did a good job distributing the ball.

The one thing that all three of those guys had in common was they could make their teammates better. Sometimes they did it by scoring the ball. Sometimes they can do it by putting their teammates in a situation where they can have success. They all did it in different ways because of their athletic ability.

On his positive take from his injuries[4]...

I have been very fortunate in my career. I’ve been a starter and a guy who’s been a starter but asked to be a facilitator. I’ve been a sixth man. I’ve been a rotation guy. I’ve been a non-rotation guy. I’ve been a guy who’s just been on your roster. I’ve been a guy who hasn’t been on your roster. I’ve been on the injured list.

There’s not one role that a player can have on my team that I can’t relate to in one way, shape or form. Now I might not know exactly how he’s feeling, but I’ve got a pretty good idea. I feel that gives me a unique connection with every player on our roster.

On the most underrated guy from his era...

I don’t know if there’s just one, but one matchup to me that I think about a lot in terms of how good he was is Detlef Schrempf. We matched up against each other. We were similar: tall players that played inside and outside. I enjoyed competing against him.

On his best memories from Phoenix...

The two moments that come to mind for me have to do with my family. One was when the All-Star Game was in Phoenix [in 1995]. I took my son to the festivities. Another moment was the Gorilla was doing a skit. It was right after Bobby Knight had the chair-throwing incident. He did his own version of it. My daughter was the little kid that went to pick up the chair.

You remember playing in some tough games, like Seattle in the playoffs, Portland or just that first year before I got hurt, the different ways that we would find ways to win games. We won some really close games in some tough fashions. We just played hard and played together.

[1] Ed Manning played four seasons in the NBA (Baltimore, Chicago and Portland) and five in the ABA (Carolina, New York and Indiana)

[2] Los Angeles had eight rookies on its roster that season, including the first and third overall picks and four of the top 20 from the 1988 NBA draft.

[3] Danny Manning joined a forwards core that included Barkley, Green, Wayman Tisdale, rookie Antonio Lang and (when he played small forward) Dan Majerle

[4] Manning suffered a torn ACL on three different occasions in his career (1989, 1995, 1998). Despite that, he played in two All-Star games (1993, 1994), won the Sixth Man of the Year Award (1998) and played in every regular season game in three different seasons (1991-92, 1999, 2000-01)